By Christy Strawser, CBS Detroit digital director
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Once a popular young politician, disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was ordered to spend 28 years behind bars on his convictions for racketeering, bribery, extortion and tax crimes.
“I think everyone here understands Mr. Kilpatrick was convicted of running a criminal enterprise,” Judge Nancy Edmunds said, adding the enterprise started while he was still in the state House of Representatives and continued through all six years he was in the mayor’s office. Edmunds said the scheme to steer contracts to pal Bobby Ferguson made projects more costly for a city that couldn’t afford it and drove contractors out of business.
The judge laid bare the accusations against Kilpatrick of fake jobs for family and friends, lavish parties, pay to play schemes, and secret affairs, saying he “has generally shown little remorse” for a bevy of infractions. She said it was sad he chose to “waste his talent on personal enrichment and aggrandizement,” when he had so many talents that could have helped the city.
Edmunds called it “devastating corruption” that bred a corrosive environment, cynicism and apathy among people who could have been convinced to boost Detroit. “We lost transparency, we lost accountability,” Edmunds said, adding her sentence was meant to show the public demands both.
“That way of doing government is over, it’s done,” she said.
Kilpatrick spoke eloquently in his own defense immediately before the sentence was handed down, giving a lengthy talk full of apologies and self-reflection in a subdued voice that riveted the packed courtroom and overflow room.
“I just humbly and respectfully ask for a fair sentence … I respect the jury’s verdict. I think your honor knows I have disagreed in terms of the specific things I was found guilty on, but I respect the verdict and I also respect the American justice system,” he said.
He added: “We’ve been stuck in this town for a very long time over me, and I’m ready to let go so the city can move on. People here are suffering, they’re hurting and a great deal of that hurt I accept full responsibility for. I apologized to everyone who will listen, but it never seems to get heard.”
Kilpatrick went on to say “men, especially in the African American community” know they’re not supposed to cry or “bow down,” describing what he projected as “false confidence” that was misread as “arrogance.”
“I really, really, really messed up,” he said, adding he takes full responsibility for all his actions, including lying about the affair with former chief of staff Christine Beatty. He said he initially felt his actions were private, but finally “got it,” saying he knows he broke the trust of the public. When he finally “got it,” he said he started enjoying life for the first time while in Texas with his wife and three sons.
And then he said he felt bad about how happy he was while Detroit was mired in economic misery.
“I apologize to the citizens of this city for abandoning you and to leave you like I did,” Kilpatrick said.
The former mayor briefly teared up as he described his father, co-defendant Bernard Kilpatrick, as a “good man” who taught him how to be a great dad to his sons. He added his dad is “not a criminal.”
He described second co-defendant Bobby Ferguson as a hard worker who helped with Comerica Park and many other projects. “Bobby Ferguson had a very lucrative business before I became mayor, he was making $20 million a year before I became mayor,” he said. He added the perception all the projects in Detroit had to include Ferguson just weren’t true.
He finished by saying he wants the city to prosper and be great again like it was during the Super Bowl in 2006.
“I say with every morsel of my being that I’m sorry … I want to say the same to my wife and my children, specifically to my mom and my dad, my mom was an incredible public servant and she lost her job … killed her career,” Kilpatrick said at the conclusion. “My family is not here today, your honor, because of them being subjected … I didn’t want them to have further damage leaving this courtroom, it would probably be hell for them (facing the media), but they’ve all sent me their love and their prayers and they’ve all forgiven me. I just hope that one day I can forgive myself.”
Kilpatrick ended his unusually humble speech by saying he was “incredibly remorseful.”
The judge was clearly unmoved. She said his remarks “showed more awareness,” though his actions after he left Detroit didn’t inspire confidence in his ability to reform. He repeatedly missed payments, hid assets, blamed the media for his troubles and lived large after he was ordered to pay Detroit $850,000 in restitution for his perjury conviction for lying on the stand to cover his romance with chief of staff Christine Beatty.
Kilpatrick’s testimony came after an hour and a half spent going over the defense ojections, and the defense and prosecutor getting a final chance to plead their case about the length of term they believe he deserves behind bars. “The sentencing decision the court must make is to be an individualized one,” the defense attorney said, adding, “It’s hard to think of an adjective to describe the amount of publicity (for this case), and I think that to some extent is a distraction because it, in part, attempts to make Mr. Kilpatrick a scape goat.”
The defense went on to basically say Kilpatrick was born and bred to become a politician, saying he’s “tall, good-looking, has an easy smile and laugh,” and then outlined his successes in office including the Super Bowl in Detroit, the I-75 Gateway Project, the Book Cadillac restoration and the Riverwalk.
“The city became his life,” the attorney said, adding Kilpatrick should not spend more than 15 years behind bars because he “has a great deal of potential ability” left. He outlined a list of disgraced local and national political officials who received sentences much shorter than Kilpatrick’s. “The United States as a whole has longer sentences than any other country in the western world,” he said, asking for a sentence that’s sufficient but not greater than necessary.
He also requested that Kilpatrick’s time be served in a federal facility in Texas, near his family
The prosecutor told a different story, urging the judge to impose the 28-year maximum. “There has been no acceptance of any responsibility,” the prosecutor said, adding it’s “not about the media … it’s about him … All the people in the city he let down and exploited.”
Appearing downcast and thinner, with a shaggy beard, Kilpatrick was uncuffed while the attorneys spoke. Contrary to his usually jocular demeanor, Kilpatrick stayed somber even while chatting with attorneys and supporters during court breaks.
Kilpatrick was found guilty of shaking down contractors, ensuring Ferguson got millions in city work and turning a nonprofit fund to help struggling Detroiters into a personal slush fund, according to evidence at his five-month trial.